Apps to make your Android smarter

Today‘s smartphones are pretty smart. We can browse the Internet, play music and videos, take pictures, connect to social networks, talk with our friends, etc. However, they can be even smarter. If we browse the market, both App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android), we have apps for almost everything.

In this post I am going to give a brief overview of some apps to make your Android smarter. With the right app you can automate thinks like turning off your notifications after midnight, switching to silent mode when you are working in your office, navigating through the apps faster and customize your launcher. These apps can be classified into those for customization, creation of widgets, quick navigation and automation:


taskerLatest versions of Android OS automatically switch from 3G to WiFi when this is available, increasing battery life and preserving our data plan. However, not all tasks can be automated with the features of the operating system. In the store we can find several apps that allow/enable from switch to silent mode when you are sleeping to launch your favorite music player when you plug-in your headphones. The automation apps lets you make mini programs that carry out task you would otherwise need to do manually.  Features:

  • Tasker: app to set up actions (aka tasks) based on contexts (application, time, date, location, event, gesture) in user-defined profiles or clickable or timer home screen widgets.
  • Llama: app that allows automatically change sound profiles depending on your location.
  • Automatelt: this app allows to automate various tasks by assigning actions to be performed when triggered with the location, event, gesture, application, time, etc.
  • Good Night, Android: it provides a widget to turn off and restore WiFi, sound, or lock the screen immediately with one click.
  • Phone schedule: scheduler for your phone. It allows to auto-sync, schedule backups and restores, switch on/off WiFi or Bluetooth, launch apps, change ringtones and notification tones, etc.
  • Screebl: this app controls your screen based on orientation. It detects how you are holding the phone to turn on the screen, and releases the lock and turn off the screen when not. 

Quick Navigation

In our mobile devices we have apps for almost anything. The Android’s app drawer allows to customize the launcher, organizing the apps in several ways and also combining them with widgets. Moreover, in Android, not all apps have to be in the launcher, allowing with this way to use the launcher only for the apps we use the most and making navigation easier. However, sometimes we want to switch between apps, start the apps we use the most, or navigate through the recent opened apps quickly. For this purpose, there are several solutions for setting up quick navigation on your device:

  • SwipePad: It consists of a launcher panel overlay to switch apps and tasks quickly. With a single swipe action such as touch down a pre-set edge of the screen, move your finger towards the center of the screen or release your finger on a specific slot, you can launch anything from within any app.
  • Homeflip: another app to switch between favorites, recent and set-up apps faster. It can be activated with the home button or a swipe gesture.
  • Sidebar: this apps creates sidebars where you can put various items on them such as apps, contacts, commonly accessed settings, shortcuts, and widgets. It supports multiple bars, as well as change the visuals and trigger options for the bars.
  • Glovebox: this apps performs multitasking by swiping without lifting the finger to select an application to open it. It has apps, shortcuts and widgets on the side bar and also pins recent tasks, notifications and includes floating widgets.


Customized launcher

Android is a very customizable operating system (OS), especially if we compare with  iOS, Windows Phone and other proprietary OS. It is possible to customize the home screen, lock screen, launcher (including the app, widget and notification drawer), dock… Some of the featured apps for customization are:

  • Nova Launcher: one of the most popular apps for customization of the launcher. It includes color themes, icon themes, scrollable dock, scroll effects and styles, etc.
  • Chameleon launcher: is an app that lets you create multiple home screens with different layouts of widgets and apps. It includes a set of widgets for the most featured apps (google, clock, facebook, twitter, instagram, media player, switches…) to layout as drawing on a screen.
  • Aviate: it is an intelligent home screen that categorizes your apps and rearranges them giving you the apps and information you need the most at precisely moment you need it. It is currently in Beta version.


widgetsWidgets are small application views of an app’s most important data and functionality that is accessible from the home screen. Widgets are only available for Android. Many apps come with widgets to perform some features quickly, such as play music with one click, create and store a quick memo, or check the weather in the home screen. However, sometimes you want a widget to perform a different function or a feature that is not available in/possible with the widgets that come when you download an app from the store. For this purpose, some apps allow to  create your own widgets, allowing to design and customize almost anything. Some examples are:

  • Ultimate Custom Widget (UCCM): app to create your own widgets easily. You can use a custom layout, fonts, images, shapes, and objects (clocks, weather information with icons, unread sms, battery information, and more).

Hopefully, these apps will change your Android experience and make you discover new features and functionalities. Developers around the world are continuously working to create original and interesting apps, and at the same time, Google is improving their OS to add more and more functionalities. In this post I tried to highlight the most interesting apps for customization, navigation and automation but feel free to suggest any others.


Smartphones in healthcare

Today’s smartphones are devices with advanced computing capabilities and connectivity which also have a wide range of built-in sensors. These features make the smartphones a good platform for telehealth,  health-related services and information via telecommunications.

Using smartphones and communication networks it is possible for practitioners and patients to collect remote aggregate health data, provide care via mobile telemedicine, and real-time monitoring of patients. Different systems have been developed, that take advantage of the new technologies and devices.

Autodiagnosis and telemedicine

  • Poket Doc is like having a doctor in your pocket. It allows you to search for and compare information about health services and pricing based on location, condition or a doctor’s speciality.
  • Scanadu (available in 2014) is an app connected with a scanner device packet with sensors to check the temperature, heart rate, oximetry, ecg wave, heart’s beats, pulse, urine analysis and stress. The app keeps the report with all the information and it contacts to the doctor in case of emergency.
  • uCheck analyzes the urine. Users have to purchase a kit containing urine test strips that can be visually analyzed with the iPhone’s camera.
  • Mango Health lets patients monitor their use of medications by setting up schedules for taking their medication. When it is time to take the medications, it reminds them through notifications.


Patient monitoring

  • Asthmapolis is connected with a sensor that patients can place on the inhaler. The app collects all the data and information. It is used by doctors to monitor asthma symptoms and create the patients report.
  • Dr. Diabetes provides diabetes awareness, monitoring and management to patients with chronic illness. It provides medical data (via the cloud) to physicians for accurate diagnosis.
  • AirStrip allows doctors check in on patients and review their vitals, cardiac waveforms, medications, intakes and outputs, and allergies. The phone is connected to a bedside monitor and send the collected data to doctors or caregivers through cellular or Wi-Fi connection.
  • GI Monitor is an app that helps patients with Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis track their symptoms and provide accurate data to physicians for optimal treatment. Data is synchronized across all platforms in real-time and users can print out easy-to-read reports for their physicians.
  • RheumaTrack is a patient diary app which record pain on the VAS scale. Patients have to record their pain, use of medication and activities. All this information is useful for the doctors.


Unlocking an Android phone

Android is an open source operative system released by Google. Carriers and manufacturers create their own version based on the Android code but they block some funtionalities and add commercial applications. Though it is an open source OS, they design a specifically Android OS version for the device and they don’t allow you to install other operative systems. Unlocking your phone allows to install a custom operating system (also known as custom ROMs) with innovatives features and root the phone to have complete access to the system.

Why root the phone ?

Rooting the device allows to modify the device’s software on the very deepest level. The greatest advantage that rooting provides is the ability to install powerful applications  that requires more than usual privileges on your device. When your phone is rooted you can
Android_unlock install apps to access and edit the system memory, speed up or slow the chip for more performance and battery life,  connect to WiFi networks that have proxy settings, block advertisements on websites and apps… Moreover, if your phone is rooted it is pretty easy to manage the operating system, backup and restore your data and manage custom ROMs.

Why install a custom ROM?

A custom ROM is simply a version of Android to replace the version of Android that the manufacturer provided on your device. Custom ROMs are created by developers and in most of cases they take away all the bloatware that is usually impossible to remove, increase performance and/or improve battery life.

There are hundreds of custom ROMs but CyanogenMod is probably the most popular and
cyanogenmod one of the most reputable. CyanogenMod is supported for a huge variety of phones and it includes some cool features such as gestures in locked-screen mode, music player and other apps, phone goggles, set up a VPN to tunnel all your IP and network data, install apps to the SD card (this safe a lot of space!) and much more. 

How to root the phone and install a custom ROM

The bootloader is the code that loads the system software on the devices and determines which applications must run in the startup (boot up) process. Manufactures block the bootloader for security reasons but also to prevent you to install custom ROMs. Unlock the bootloader is the first step to install a custom firmware on your Android phone.

HTC_BootloaderNot all the Android-phones can be unlocked although it is possible in the most advanced onces. Some manufactures such as HTC, Samsung or Google launched the official tools to unlock the bootloaders. In this post I will show the steps for HTC phones altough it is really easy to find the steps for other phones on the xdna developers forum.

 Be aware that unlock your bootloader may void your warranty.

1. Backup

Before start unlocking your phone it is highly recommended to backup all your data. You can use your Google account to backup your apps and automatically sync back when the process was complete. HTC Sync, available from the HTC website allows to backup your contacts, messages, notes, call logs….The application Go Backup Pro has the same purpose.

2. Unlocking the bootloader (HTC phones)

HTC_unlockBootloaderThe official webpage of HTCDev provides all the resources to unlock the bootloader of your HTC. If you follow all the steps of the HTCDev guide you will get your unlock code to root your phone. You need to download the Android SDK and once downloaded it basically consist on start the device into Bootloader mode and run the adb (which is on the SDK) to get the token, which is an unique code that identifies your phone. Then they will provide you with a unlock token to copy on the phone and unlock the bootloader from the Bootloader screen. All the steps are detailed in the website.

3. Rooting the phone

The bootloader is now unlocked but still not rooted. There are different ways to root your phone, for example installing the application ClockworkMod from Google Play and use the feature Reboot into Recovery. You can also create and run your temp_root script (be sure your phone is plugged in) with the following code:

adb shell mv /data/local/tmp /data/local/tmp.backup
adb shell ln -s /data /data/local/tmp
adb reboot
adb shell echo "ro.kernel.qemu=1 > /data/local.prop"
adb reboot

If you want to remove the temp root you can create and run the remove_temp_root script with the following code:

adb shell rm /data/local.prop
adb shell rm /data/local/tmp
adb shell mv /data/local/tmp.backup /data/local/tmp
adb reboot

4. Installing a custom ROM

There are lots of custom ROMs you can download and install on your phone. One of the most populars is CyanogenMod which offers features not found in the official Android based firmware. You could choose another one though, and the process will be basically identical.

clockwormodBe sure the custom ROM you chose is supported on you phone and download it. Then copy the downloaded zip file to the phone SD card. If you didn’t download Clockworkmod, you will need to do at that point. This applications allows to root your phone and install custom ROMs among other possibilities. Installing the downloaded custom ROM is as easy as tap into the Install ROM from SD Card and wait until process finish.  I highly recommend to do a backup of the current ROM before start the installation.

At this point your phone is rooted and running a customized operating system. You have super-user privileges, you can control everything from your phone,  you can do wathever you want!

The most useful google services

Google is the number one searching online engine used by millions of people everyday. But Google is more than a searcher: the list of products, services and tools is huge. Some of them started as independent projects developed by Google engineers, such as Google News or Gmail, others come from the acquisition of companies like Youtube or Blogger. Nowadays Google have hundreds of tools, services and applications including desktop, mobile and online products.


  • Gmail: One of the most used email services.
  • Google Translator: online translation tool to instantly translate text and webpages.
  • Google Maps: map-based services including street maps (Google Maps),satellite images, a route planner for travelling by foot, car bike or public transport (Google Transit), 360° panoramic street-level views of various locations (Google Street View)…
  • Google Calendar: an online calendar to keep track all events and receive event reminders.
  • Google Reader is a RSS feed reader.  It is the perfect tool for the people who like  reading blogs and news from several different web sites.
  • Google News: it is a news site that aggregates headlines from news sources worldwide.

Suites, storage, payment… 

  • Google Drive provides storage space on the cloud. It is a way to synchronize with Google Docs (docs, spreadsheats, presentations), Google Drawings (drawings), Google Forms (forms), pivot tables, app Scripts..
  • Google Desktop is an interface to remotely access your computer files, images, emails, pretty much anything. It needs to install an app to start indexing all the content of the computer.
  • Google Play is a shop to buy and listen music, to read books, to find movies, games and Android apps.
  • Google Wallet provides a secure means of shopping in the virtual marketplace.

Photo and Video

  • Youtube: the most popular video platform.
  • Picasa is an image organizer in image viewer that allows to share albums and photos online.
  • Google TV to watch shows online or listen to radio.
  • Google Goggles is an image recognition app to search by taking a picture with the smartphone. The photo is used to find more information about products, famous landmarks, paintings, QR codes…
  • Google Talk allows to chat with google contacts on the internet using  Google Chat.
  • Google Voice gives you a Google number to forward call/text to all your phones. It also provides free PC-to-phone calls (US) and PC-to-PC video and audio calling, international calls, text message…

Microsoft Kinect in healthcare

Microsoft Kinect has transformed the way people interact with technology. The combination of the camera, the depth sensor and the microphone enable new applications and functionalities such as 3D motion capture or speech recognition. New applications are emerging.

In the medical field, kinect sensor offers great possibilities to the treatment and prevention of disease, illness or injury. Most of applications in the medical field, specially in eHealth (healthcare through the use of technology), use the kinect for tracking patient’s movements in order to perform rehabilitation or patient’s monitoring.

Physical Theraphy and Rehabilitation

Red Hill Studios from University of California is researching about how Kinect can be implemented to help people with Parkinson’s disease. They have developed specialized games to improve the gaith and balance of people with functional impairments and diseases.

Home Training System for Rehab Patients (HTSRP) motions and captures the physical exercises of the patient using a Kinect. It presents a 3D version of the person, analyzes the movements  to pre-detect if physical exercises are performed right or wrong and gives visual feedback on the screen. Jintronix, like HTRSP and other companies, performs rehabilitation in a virtual environment.


Medicine and diagnose can be performed remotely for people who lives a long way from the hospital. A few months ago Microsoft launched InAVate, a platform which allows group therapy session using avatars.

Collaboration and Annotation of Medical Images (CAMI) of University of Arcasas uses Microsoft Kinect to capture the data, which can be checked on a Windows device such as a tablet, phone or computer.

University of South Florida developed a Robotic Telemedicine System using the kinect sensor for mapping the environment and plan a path and trajectory. The telemedicine platform also provides video communications for doctor-patient communication through the camera and microphone’s kinect.

Remote patient monitoring

Remote patient monitoring and telehealth are used in chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetics or asthma. Cognitiont’s Global Technology is a remote health monitoring solution for multiple sclerosis physiotherapy at home.

Medical applications

Microsoft Kinect is also used as a hands free tool to control medical imaging equipment. Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital uses Kinect to move and zoom X-Ray and MRI without touching the screen and leaving the sterile area, which is very useful for surgeons and interventional radiologist. Getstix also has developed a touchless gestural interface for the surgeons and interventional radiologists.

Researchers from University of Konstanz have made a step forward with NAVI system. They use the Kinect camera and depth sensor with a laptop, a vibrating bell and a bluetooth headset to avoid obstacles for blind people.

The future in a post-PC era

Do you think the smartphones/tablets will be the dominant way we interact with the world around us? Or do you think the future will be sprinkled with enchanted objects? That’s what the MIT Enterprise Forum discussed on October 9th in the Innovation Battle: Competing visions for the future in a post-PC era, which I had the opportunity to join.

The panel of experts who battle out two competing vision included some of Boston’s bests on the topic and was moderated by  Lora Kratchounova from Scratch Marketing + Media.

Michael Davies (Founder and Chairman at Endeavour Partners)

Michael believes the future is Mobile because everyone has one all of the time with broadband connectivity. Moreover lots of developers around the world are constantly creating new apps providing new functionalities.

David Rose (Research Scientist at MIT Media Lab)

David is against Michael’s opinion. He thinks that mobile will act as a remote control for objects but it’s more important the wearability, usability, learnability… Pandora chair is a good example.

Ari Adler ( Design and Community Lead at IDEO)
Ari doesn’t have a strong opinion. He thinks in the future will coexist both: we will always bring the mobile all time, but we must be able to interact with the world.

Adam Laughlin (Lifelong Kindergarten,  MIT Media Lab’s)

Adam focused on learning toward Mobile. The problem of mobiles is that we need to open the app, so we don’t use it if it’s not important for us. That’s the strongest point of enhanted objects, they meet our everyday needs and demands.

Jennifer Lum (Co-Founder at Adelphic Mobile)

Jennifer is a co-founder of Adelphic Mobile and mentor of 500 startups, most of them focused on mobile advertising. She also works on Apple iAd, so she thinks the future is mobile.

I think we are now in a mobile-era. We can do almost everything with our smartphone or tablet (connectivity is very important). Enchanted objects needs evolution, but in a few years it will gain in popularity. In the future we will need both apps and objects. I’m ready for The Internet of Things! What about you?

Identifying art forgeries using photonic technology

Optical communications allow high-rate and long-distance digital data transmission using optical fibers, lasers and optical amplifiers. Although this is on of the main applications, optical communications have more, such as the scientific study of artworks using laser technology.

The Optical Communications Group from UPC in Barcelona investigates and work with photonic technologies to analyse the pigments used in art objects. A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit their research laboratory and I also assisted in a lecture about the analysis of pigments using Raman Spectroscopy, which I will try to summarize.

Analysis of pigments with Raman Spectroscopy

Raman Spectroscopy is a photonic technique that allows to unequivocally characterize a chemical compound, providing a signal known as Raman Spectrum. It is a non-invasive and non-destructive technique, which is the main reason why it is used to identify the constituent materials in artworks. When illuminated with a pulsed ultraviolet laser, it emits a special frequency in the Raman spectra, which can be analysed to identify the pigments.

Analysing the Raman spectra we can identify the pigments used, ascertain the artist’s palette. If we know the period of utilization and the date of appearance of each pigment we can successfully discover the period when it was painted. With this information we can also establish the possible authorship of the work. For example, the next oil and canvas dated from 1930 was initially attributed to Joaquín Torres García. However, the identified pigments are Rutile (1940) and Violet 23 (1960) so we can conclude that it is a fake!